Actress Miranda Tapsell could not have been more on point at last year’s Logies Awards when she accepted her recognition as the most popular new talent and most outstanding newcomer.
"Put more beautiful people of colour on TV and connect viewers in ways which transcend race – and unite Australians."
I was there with a range of National Indigenous Television (NITV) faces and colleagues, sitting in Melbourne’s Crown Casino auditorium surrounded by the Australian media industry’s who’s who.
NITV had been nominated for three awards, one in the news, children and sports entertainment categories. To be there representing an Indigenous channel amongst an industry dominated by the mono-cultural “Aussie” stereotypes – we already felt like winners. I remember the moment that Miranda spoke so vividly.
Her words were honest and poignant. When she finished, the biggest cheers in the room for the girl from Darwin came from the black faces in the room. Because so often as Indigenous people, we have so very little to cheer about.
'It is far more likely that you will hear a British accent fronting a prime time news program on our mainstream media platforms, than an Indigenous voice.'
Where are our faces presenting news and current affairs on Australia’s main commercial channels? Take a look at public broadcasting at the ABC. For nearly three decades, the ABC has been recruiting and training Indigenous news staff. Where are the Indigenous reporters on programs like Four Corners or Foreign Correspondent? There are no Indigenous foreign correspondents or senior federal political reporters.
In fact, it is far more likely that you will hear a British accent fronting a prime time news program on our mainstream media platforms, than an Indigenous voice. Stan Grant has stood out as a beacon on Sky News as has Brooke Boney at SBS, but there are few others.
This is not a cry for special treatment; but just as we are over-represented in our prisons, the under-representation of Indigenous people in our media speaks to a deep structural problem. Diversity in media.
'Our challenge is this: how do we marry merit with opportunity? The best example of this is Stan Grant.'
Diversity in Hollywood is a hot topic – the lack of diversity. These conversations that are so “of the moment” will only have merit if they inspire change. We have to ask ourselves, when we switch on the TV, do we see an accurate representation of Australia’s multiculturalism in all its richness?
Our challenge is this: how do we marry merit with opportunity? The best example of this is Stan Grant. He began his media career through commercial radio before making his name on our television screens and then internationally with CNN. Grant reported at a senior level for the ABC, but he did not come through an identified training scheme, he took his place alongside everyone else.
He has reported on the great stories of our time, winning the most prestigious awards in journalism. He has achieved all this as a proud Indigenous man.
Diversity without excellence is hollow. Yet excellence is impossible without opportunity. Industry bosses cannot continue to employ people who simply look and sound like them. This is why a national Indigenous broadcaster is needed and relevant. This is where NITV can be incredibly influential. Up to 80% of our staff is Indigenous. Indigenous voices telling Indigenous stories for all Australians to embrace.
Ernie Dingo’s presence on commercial media was ground-breaking. He developed a presence on merit more than a decade ago. Have we, as a diverse and respectful culture, gone backwards since then?
'Black faces seeing black faces across the media is essential. It inspires and empowers our youth.'
Promoting reconciliation, cultural understanding, respect and social cohesion is intrinsic in everything NITV does. NITV and other Indigenous media outlets have the unique privilege of working with Indigenous organisations across the nation in all areas of our business and see this as a unique opportunity to grow a production sector, offering opportunities that no other broadcaster is able to do. Voices across Australia know that they have a place on NITV.
Black faces seeing black faces across the media is essential. It inspires and empowers our youth. Maybe one day, they too could be a household name featured in a commercial drama series. For now, they have a 24/7 platform where their voices can be shared, where they can see their families and communities in a positive light. A platform that they know will tell their fascinating but often untold stories. A news service that will challenge perceptions and facilitate debate with trusted and accurate reporting on Indigenous affairs. The next Stan Grant will surely come from NITV. Stan himself is actively involved in identifying and nurturing this talent.
As Australia enters a significant moment in our nation’s history and continues to debate the identity and place of Indigenous peoples, there is a growing appetite for trusted Indigenous content and voices. These perspectives are shared every minute on NITV but should be included as part of the everyday make-up of any Australian media organisation. It has been said that to be truly Australian you need to know and understand the First Australians. Australians need to hear the knowledge and stories of this land. You hear these stories from Indigenous people through the media. Are we likely to see Australia’s first Indigenous prime minister rather than Australia’s first Indigenous 60 Minutes reporter? We have the talent and we are banging on the door: eventually it will open.
For now, we bask in the brilliance of those who have broken through, those who are acknowledged for their talents, including actors Aaron Pederson and Deborah Mailman, singers Jessica Mauboy and Dan Sultan, artists Tony Albert and Richard Bell, filmmakers Rachael Perkins and Warwick Thornton and icons like Ernie Dingo and Stephen Page.
We will linger on and remember the words of Miranda Tapsell, reminding TV executives what Australian audiences actually want. Reminding them of the power that a decision to embrace diversity can have on this country.
#OscarsSoWhite need not mean #LogiesSoWhite. In that very moment, Miranda Tapsell showed that excellence with diversity is a powerful combination worthy of any award.
Tanya Denning-Orman is a proud Birri & Guugu Yimithirr woman from FNQ and Channel Manager at NITV.